My name is Tamara*. I am 20 years old, in grade twelve, and HIV-positive. Let me explain to you how I arrived at this point.
I first became aware of my status about 10 years ago while in third grade in the Copperbelt. Both of my parents passed away when I was very young, just two years old. I never knew what was wrong with my health, but I was suffering with sores and rashes all over my body. Due to this, I was taken to voluntary testing and counseling (VCT) in the Copperbelt, and surprisingly, the result came back positive. My CD4 count was as low as 27, and I was not placed on ART treatment.
In January 2004, I went back to the clinic, and my CD4 was 124, but I had still not started the treatment. At this time, the medicine was being sold, but when the doctors asked my grandfather to pay for my treatment, he refused.
However, in October 2006 I informed my Auntie, who was living in Lusaka while I was staying in the Copperbelt, of my status. In November of the same year, she came and took me, and in 2007, I was finally placed on ART treatment. My Auntie is loving and caring; she considered me as her own daughter, and this makes me consider her as my biological mother.
In 2008, my Auntie’s younger sister came to stay with us – and to my surprise, things changed for the worse. I was being discriminated against by my Auntie’s sister, and I even lost hope that I would ever be free again. Her stay was like fire on my body; she called me names like “mosquito,” “AIDS carrier,” ”chingwele” (a grave), and others, which hurt me each time I remember them.
At the end of 2008, I was introduced to a support group where I learned a lot about HIV and AIDS. Those of us in the group now know it’s not our fault that we were born with this virus, and that infants can get this during the birth period. I used to blame my mother, wondering why she gave birth to me and left me on this earth suffering, which is wrong.
In 2012, I was introduced to the Tisamala Teens Group, and this programme does help a lot. At the time I joined, I wanted revenge on my Auntie’s sister for all the bad things she had done and said to me, but today, I have forgiven her and I accept that this is how life is. Now, sometimes she even sends me to go and get her medicine when she’s at work, because she has found herself in a similar situation (being HIV-positive) now.
I would like to thank EGPAF for introducing this programme, because it has really helped people here – especially we young ones – and I hope that it also will help those people who are still ignorant about HIV and AIDS. The Tisamala programme also has helped me to become more open, because originally, I was too shy to tell people about my status. I hope that EGPAF will not stop supporting this programme!
Tamara’s essay, reprinted above, recently won first place in a Tisamala Teen Mentorship Programme writing contest sponsored by EGPAF. The Tisamala Teen Mentorship Programme empowers adolescents living with HIV to facilitate a series of fun and lively life skill sessions with their peers. It facilitates group discussion and problem solving on topics such as seeking support, coping with loss, adherence, and transactional sex. Tisamala means ‘we care’ in Nyanja. The Tisamala programme was developed by The Centre for Support for Peer Education (CSPE) in South Africa, and adapted for use in Zambia.
*Name changed for privacy purposes.